What does it mean to “level” math–and why was I not taught it in university?

With my new job I now teach grade 9/10. I took over grade 9 at the end of the polynomial unit, and start with the grade 10s Foundations and Pre-calculus class. In grade 9 and 10 I hated math, like cried everyday, would wake up with nightmare about math before tests, would be violently sick before finals. It was bad; however, in grade 11 math suddenly clicked. I understood it so well that I even took it as my minor my first two years of my degree before switching to Middle Years. Math was one of my favorite subjects to teach during my internship, because you can have fun with it, its easy to grade (the right answer is the right answer, regardless of how you do it), there is more than one way of thinking, and you can connect to all types of learners. Teaching this class was not even a concern for me, I am teaching at my old high school, and would have the support of a lot of fantastic teachers. Within three days of taking the job I realized how under prepared I was for math. We are told as graduates of the University of Regina, that an education degree allows you to teach any grade, and any subject. I quickly learned that this does not mean you are prepared by the university to teach any grade or any subject. I took two math curriculum classes during my education degree and four higher math courses, I don’t know how much more I could learn about math. I even sat in on some secondary math curriculum classes, and attended professional development based on secondary math. Yet, I cannot seem to follow any thing that the former teacher did with her students, which are now mine, and I have no idea what I am missing. Even when I ask how she did her math and grading, it still makes no sense. She uses a system where the students do as much as they can, and that determines their grade, but if they only want to do the harder questions, they will get a higher grade because the level of thinking is higher. How does she determine what the levels are, I looked at her notes, and I looked at my math notes, and at a dozen different sites, but I have no idea where she sees the levels. If this is the new way of teaching, why was it not taught in University. It makes sense that higher level of thinking allows for higher marks, but how do you know something is higher, just by how long it takes to solve, how many steps are involved. I’m trying to use the strategies that I learned for teaching math in university, but I quickly realized that those strategies do not work with a group of students who do not want to learn, and who believe math has no use in their lives (regardless of how many real-life problems I give them). What am I missing? What do I need to change? And can someone please explain to be what leveling questions means, and how do it? I love math, and I want my students to love math, but I feel like I’m failing them.

White Like Me

“White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, The Remix: Revised and Updated Edition” by Tim Wise provided me with a lot of questions. When I first started this book it was during my summer before my third year of university started at the University of Regina in the Faculty of Education, but I did not finish the book until the first few weeks into my internship, starting my fourth year.

I am not a slow reader, but I could not finish this book in one go, like I do with most books. This one had me starting, and after a few chapters needing a change, needing to reflect. This process continued until I finished the book, more than a year later.

I have no idea what made me pick up this book in Chapters, and decide to buy it, maybe it was the conversation with friends earlier that day about White Privilege. Or maybe it was because I was in a faculty that focuses on diversity and eliminating the society norms, yet being from a small town in Saskatchewan I had until that moment put little thought into my own thoughts on white privileged and racism.

This book gives evidence that racism is taught not generic but that it is not always taught intentionally. Simple things like crossing the street when someone of a different race is walking towards you, or clutching your purse tighter, or turning away when someone of a different skin color looks at you. We are not born to notice skin color but we watch how other people behave, we learn from watching, we learn from overhearing, and we learn without ever realizing what we are learning. University was my first real experience getting to know people that had a non-white ethnic background. It was also the first time I ever seen racism happen to someone I knew. I grew up hearing thoughtless comments about Indigenous people, or Africans, or Asians, this list can continue hitting almost any person who is considered a minority in Canada, but I never realized the impact that they had on a person. The more I branched out my group of friends, the more I seen out racist Canadians can be, and the more I seen how I have an unspoken amount of white privilege. “White Like Me”, gave me a chance to think about the experiences that I have faced, and take notice in other issues around me, without even realizing it I had (and in some cases still struggle with) my own racial stereotypes and racist thoughts.

The more I read the book, the angrier and more frustrated I became, because there seems to be such little progress happening in the world, it may be directed towards a different group of people but their is still bigotry, and hatred directed at people who are different than the majority, as if it is acceptable to judge people because their voices are quieter or  lesser in quantity than the majority populations.

Changing the way people think, especially when they are unaware of their own inner thoughts, opinions and struggles, is challenging. It starts  with their education, it starts with the lessons they receive both in and out of the classroom. Having students identify their own values, and prejudices is hard at a university level, it is way harder with middle years students, because not only do you have to take into account the students beliefs but also the parents, grandparents, and all of the people who influence the students. Open discussions, honesty, and personal thoughts play a part in the lessons, but keeping your own emotions in check because the students are still learning and may have conflicting feelings, even more so if no one, or very few people in their communities are of a minority.

Besides using this book to talk about racism in society, it can be linked to the colonialist history of North America, using stereotypes and assimilation to make connections with Treaty education, and struggles that are found in Canada. This book may not be based in Canada, but similar beliefs are found between the United States and Canada, meaning that material in this book still carries wait when used in the right context.

Reading this book gave me a starting place for Social Justice, but it also made me more passionate about teaching students about social justice and they role in society. Teaching students that their voices matter, that they can make a difference is a starting point for students. One of the reasons I got into Middle Years Education is because someone once told me, “if you get middle years students passionate about something they will plan to change the world, and if you encourage and support them, one day they might”, early primary grades are sometimes to young to understand bias and unjust situations, while secondary students have seen too much failure to believe the world can be changed, this only gets stronger with age.

At some point I will likely re-read this  book, because I am still learning, I am still gathering more questions, and I am still wanting answers, ideas, and solutions to work with problems that occur in classrooms, communities, and in society. How can I preach the idea of a diverse society? I am not sure if I have a full understanding of white privilege, racism, and internalized biases. I am not sure if I will ever fully understand, but I am willing to keep learning, to keep researching, and to do my best to be aware of my own biases, the more I understand the more I can work on teaching students to question society norms, and to think about their biases and actions.

A Knock at the Door

A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools” was put together, written and edited by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This  book is a very short summary of the original Truth and Reconciliation report. The book is the  perfect starting place for every teacher to start with before teaching treaty education, especially before educating students on residential schools. The book includes a full time line, survivors’ stories and tons of information that can be used to educate yourself and students on the events of residential school. The last chapter of the book focuses on moving towards reconciliation, which is the entire goal of why we teacher treaty education and have such a big focus on learning the real history of Canada. At the end of the book there is a list of the 94 calls to action created by the TRC commission, these are the actions that the public should be taking to create a path of reconciliation, many of which are able to be integrated into a classroom and allows the students to contribute to the process of reconciliation.

Balancing everything at once…and kinda failing-Week Eight Reflection

Being busy is nothing new to me, I have the personality where I have to be busy or I get anxious. But I might have myself being too busy (which is really hard for me to say). I am very involved in extra-curricular at the school, especially with volleyball, it takes up the majority of my mornings, many afternoons and quite a few weekends. It also takes up a lot of my personal stresses, how can I help one player get their serves over, at the same time I am trying to correct someone else’s jump serve (I can’t even jump serve, I spent an entire night looking at videos to figure what she was doing wrong), and than there is all the extra stuff, like finding people to drive, and answering parents questions about every random thing they think of, and parents come up with random questions a lot.

I also have my actual teaching to do, I just picked up my fifth class, which means I still have four more to pick up. I now understand why those prep periods are so important for teachers, not because they actually need to prepare their lessons, but because they need to mark for their lessons. I have a stack sitting beside me that is ridiculous, and part of it is that I hate telling students they are not good enough to get 100. The feeling sucks, especially when you know how hard a student worked for a mark, but they make silly mistakes or  get lazy. Its hard to enjoy marking when you know that a student is going to be crushed because of their marks regardless of what they get unless it is 100. There is no winning, because students have been brought up with the expectation that they are supposed to be perfect. Students do not hear, its O.K. to make mistakes, and it will be OK if you get one bad mark, but their parents were raised in a time when marks mattered, a 100 was important, tests were the only way to evaluate and students are all the same. News flash: THIS IS ALL A LIE.

Marks matter very little, because no one cares what you got in a middle years math, but the school divisions care, because to them all the matters are the marks, not the students, not if the material taught is actually going to be carried over into the next year because obviously marks are the only way to measure student success. I am really starting to feel the pressure of students marks with report cards coming up in a few weeks. Do I assign more meaningless assignments, or do I stick to my teaching beliefs and only assign assessments that are meaningful and teach the students how to apply their learnings?  This is so frustrating! They give you all this great information in university but they never tell you that you will have to fight an uphill battle to actually apply the information.

I guess I will go back to marking, so that I can actually figure out how to write report cards for these students who do not want to see their marks, and parents who know that their children are way smarter than a mark a show.

Teaching Inequalities-Week Seven Reflection

This week I made a strong decision to start teaching about things that mean something to me. I spend a lot of time talking with those that know me about the inequalities of the world, but I have been nervous about bringing them into my own classroom. I have no idea why I have been nervous, I know that my students are great, and that they have strong and passionate ideas about everything, but I was very hesitant about bringing in the topic of inequalities up with these students. However, between the Treaty Ed Camp that I attended a few weekends ago, and the book I am reading “White Like Me” by Tim Wise, I have been feeling guilty about letting my fear get to me. So I decided to take a chance and have my students participate in a talking circle. With a class of 9, the circle covers a lot of information quickly and jumps topics fast. But I also get to make sure that all students get to voice their opinions, thoughts, and questions. Since this is a class that can be a little (or  a lot) wild, I thought it best to have students start with something small, so the first attempt was their name, and what they did on the weekend. Which led into 4 students watching the Jays defeat the Texas Rangers, this led to a student mentioning that at the game against the Orioles that someone threw a beer can at the ball, but the Jays issued an apology. Which some how spiraled off that the Jays, and the city should not be responsible for the actions of a fan, just like how the class should not be held responsible for the actions of one classmate, or that the actions of one person does not many that every person that looks like them, or acts like  them are responsible for the actions of the wrong-doer. These students, who have never really experienced a world outside of their own protect bubble could instantly grasp that just because one person does something wrong does not mean that every person of that race or culture is to blame. It was at this point that I was happy with my decision to bring in talking circles into the classroom.

Friday last class, or more specifically the last class of the week will be for the talking circle that allows for reflection. Friday was my holy crap moment, when a student, who is often regarded as being a nuisance in class, spoke up about an issue that was brought up in class. Earlier in the week Donald Trump released an image of the people voting for him, the largely red map concern all students in my class. I spent some time investigating and found out about the #repealthe19th movement currently happening. This one student spoke up saying women not being allowed to vote is as stupid as First Nations people not being able to vote, and going back to worse times did not make the world better, and people that thought it did clearly care more about themselves than the rest of the population. Coming from a student that appears to take very few things in life seriously you know that this is a strong opinion of his, which means that I finally feel like all the stuff I have been teaching them is actually getting through to them. I ended the class saying that each student is to do two nice things for people that they do not know, so I guess I will see where this goes on Monday. Overall the week was busy but beneficial for both the students and I.

Am I just too busy to notice how stressed I am? Week six of Internship

I have talked a bit with many of the people in my awesome middle year cohort, and I have talked with other interns about what they are going through, I have also talked to new teachers who remember their internship. The common question is, have you cried lately? The reality is that even when a lesson bombs, or I have a not great day teaching. I just do not have the time to whine about it. I always have another lesson to teach or a practice to coach, or something that matters more than sitting and stewing about something in the past. This was a short week, which I am so thankful for because the students needed a few days to refocus their learning. On Monday, I got to experience teaching my first 10/11 physical education lesson, and it was not great. I also completely forgot I was teaching it until 15 minutes before I started teaching. Therefore, the students had the opportunity to see how quickly I could improvise a lesson, lucky we are doing volleyball (sorry Kathy), which I coach so I know the skills. Wednesday was my holy crap day, I could not for the life of me get the technology to work which meant that my well planned lesson, which I was stealing from Amy Klassen, was just not  going to happen. Luckily, I always have a plan, which in this case was reading a few pages of the textbook and creating a visual image of the water cycle. None of this matters because ten minutes into my science class, the secretary came into my class to ask students for their immunization forms, for their needles, later that day. The rest of my class consisted of tracking down parents to get forms signed because the students believed if they did not take forms home, that they would not get needles. This may have been true if I had 30 students, but in grade 8 I have 5. So phoning parents, and explaining to them why their children did not bring their forms home even though they had them over two weeks ago. This task took up 15 minutes of my class, the rest of my class was spent taking five students who did not want needles, and calming them down. This trickled into the rest of my day holding handing, whipping tears, and doing anything to distract students of needles for my five students, and the six grade 6 students. Did I mention that I am petrified of needles? Out of everything, I have ever done during teaching, every hard discussion I have had. The hardest thing I have done is keep young students calm about needles, when every time I looked at a needle I thought I was going to throw up. Nevertheless, I did not, and every student got their needles, minus the fingernail indents in my wrist and hand, we all walked away happy and unscarred.

 

The rest of my week has consisted of Professional Development in Saskatoon at the Horizon School Division Literacy Summit 14. I love PD, I have always loved PD because it gives me a chance to learn something about a specific topic, but when I attend PD I want to attend it with people who are equally excited, people who want to learn as much, or more than me. When you have colleagues that don’t care, or only pick out the negatives of each speaker, than what is the point of going. Why is a school division making people who do not want to learn attend PD, they ruin it for those that want the discussion. I do not always agree with everything a presenter says, but at least I listen and openly consider what is being said, finding something you do not agree with is as much learning as finding things you do agree with, but how is it possible to disagree with everything? The research is changing.  Why are the teachers who refuse to change the ones who have job security, why are they never questioned, never reviewing their learnings and teaching philosophies? Why are first year teachers evaluated but thirty year teachers not, because they have been doing it for so long, or because people are too scared to question those that may have also taught their parents?

 

Are these really my concerns, or do I just have so many things that I need to be worried about that I am finding anything possible to distract me? Or is it just that I am not stressed? Is it possible that all of the stresses I experienced from last year, have nulled my ability to get stressed over the not great lessons and the time I stray from the curriculum, or do I just internally know that the curriculum only matters to those that are scared to mess up. I don’t care if I fail at a lesson, but I do care if I have every student dreading whenever I am in charge of teaching a lesson. Does that make me a weak teacher? I guess that depends who you ask.

Why is everything about marks? Week five of Internship

In university, we are taught to use formative assessment, to provide feedback, and to allow students to make mistakes, which they are than able to fix and improve. But, while actually teaching everything is about the marks. How does one student compare to others, which student is the smartest, and how does one school, school division, province or country compare to the rest? Why does any of this matter? Could someone please explain to me what the difference between a 90 and an 80 really is, so you know slightly more or you were able to memorize more? Really all that a grade proves is that you were able to give a teacher the exact information that they wanted, regardless of what actually matters. Yet all I hear is how we need to mark every assignment, but I am never told why. Not every assignment is going to truly prove that a student has learnt anything, or test their understanding of a topic. But unless I am evaluating the students ability to research I do not see the point in evaluating an assignment that provides me information found only online. I want students that can take the information they find, and apply it to something more than a few questions. Students need to be able to take more than one piece of information which they can use and apply it to other information which they have learnt to develop well thought out and strong answers that relate to the outcomes that are being evaluated.

A Week in Review-Game-based lesson, volleyball and not enough sleep.

This week has been a busy, actually busy does not even begin to describe how it has been. On top of it being super busy, it was also Global TVs premier week which means my priorities were a little split during the week. Besides my normal three classes that I teach, I also picked up a 5/6 PE class, a 7/8 science class and a 7/8 PAA class. It also happens to be my Jr. Girls home volleyball tournament which means I am running around trying to make sure everything is organized, fitting in a practice at every moment that I possibly can, which means mornings, lunch and after schools to the point where I spent more time with the girls than I do with my boyfriend. Besides volleyball which has once again taken over my life, I have actual prep to do with my classes.

I got to experience planning my first game-based learning, which went off surprisingly well. For a performance task assessment that I used with students was to have them use the squares on the floor as a coordinate grid, with different coordinates leading to clues which had questions on them to lead to a final treasure. The students had to video tape the whole quest, which I will use to a reference to provide them a mark out of 10. It is a small step towards having a game-based learning classroom full time, but I figured that the first few activities are going to be the most nerve racking.

Now back to volleyball, this weekend was my Jr. Girls home tournament, which also happened to be the first tournament of the season, and the girls got 2nd!!! Am I sad that the girls did not get first, yes but only because I know how hard they have worked for it, considering that my team is made up with the majority being grade 6 students, a few 8s and one 7, no grade 9s,  yet our final game was against a team with all grade 9s who were taller than the net. The girls did fantastic, they won one set of three, and came close in the third set. Am I disappointed that they got second instead of first, not even close. Do I know that the next few games will provide the students with a chance to build their skills and improve on their weaknesses which only makes me more excited for the next tournament.

This week was busy, just like all the next weeks during my internship will be, but I seem to be giving myself a chance of surviving by working on weekends and utilizing my breaks at school. When people say that internship is hard, I never realized that it being hard had nothing to do with the teaching, that is the easy part, but the extra-curricular, the balancing between teaching, coaching, and having a life that is what makes it hard.

 

Being an educator is more than making lesson plans and grading tests

This week was full of firsts for me. It was the first time that I ever had students excitedly ask if I was teaching their class, it was the first time that I ever decided to not bother putting together a proper lesson plan and just doing what was needed, and it was my first time completely changing what I was planning on changing because my students were not ready for new material. These are all firsts related to teaching, but I also had many other firsts this week.

I was my first time ever coaching a volleyball practice, I also got to be a coach at a volleyball game. My girls lost, and anyone that knows me is aware how competitive I am (which is hard to believe because I am not a good athlete). For the first ever, I did not care that we lost, because all I could focus on was that two girls who are just learning how to serve got a serve over during the game. I care that the girls, who were playing against older, taller, and stronger players were able to hold their own in a game, and I am proud that the girls made so many strong plays against a team who could all reach over the net while only one of my girls could.

I got to supervise art club this week, which is new to the school but based on the turn out a necessary club to have. I got to not coach, and not lead but just sit back and allow the students to take charge of what matters, and interests them. I was able to just allow the students to work, and got the opportunity to see my students create something with no end goal, no outcome to be evaluated and no rules set in place. I got to see my students in a new way.

When I first got into education, I knew that I would want to do extra-curricular, but a lot of that had to do with realizing extra-curricular is a must for new teachers if I ever want to get hired. However, this week I got to spend time really engaged in extra-curricular and it was by far one of my favorite experiences of my teaching career.

In my application essay  to the University of Regina I talked about how seeing the students’ “light-bulb” moments was one of my favorite things. I can honestly say that it pales in comparison to watching my students do something that they truly enjoy and are dedicated to, just because they want to and not because they have to.

Being a teacher may only be a job, but being an educator is more about the lessons learnt outside the classroom than from the curriculum.

Next week I get to tackle a 7/8 science class, a 5/6 PE class, and a 7/8 PAA class, on top of my continuous classes. I also get to watch my volleyball girls in their home tournament, as the coach, which I am beyond excited for.

Using a textbook feels like cheating…but it isn’t?

Throughout my entire university education I was taught by many professors to not use textbooks to create my lesson plans. That the textbook is not curriculum and that it is a resource, it can be used to supplement lessons but not be the lesson. And than I entered internship, and my co-op only teaches from textbooks, except for PE (where all of Kathy’s rules are broken). I started my internship not using a textbook, planned my entire Social Studies plan without using it, and than I got to math. By time I finished planning Social I was so tired and rushed on time that I did not care that I used the textbook to plan math. Social planning was stressful and time consuming but Math took no time at all. Using the textbook made my life easier, made me feel like I had a fighting chance to survive internship. Now I am planning Science, and the idea of using the textbook to plan is way too easy, but I feel guilty. I feel as if I am not giving my students 110% of my effort. However, I also feel that if I give 110% effort in all of my subjects and extra-curricular than there will be nothing left of me.

Does using the textbook mean that I don’t care, or that I am lazy. It feels that way but than I think about how much work I put into lessons, and resources and maybe using the textbook is just smart teaching. I can still manipulate the textbook into using the 5Es, and allow some game-based learning. This would allow me to put more effort into the fun and engaging lessons if I do not have to spend all of my time on information lessons and creating new experiments.

Logically it makes sense to use the textbooks as  a valued resource, but that does not make me feel any less guilty. Didn’t someone say that a poor decision is defended only by someone trying to make logic from it. Is that what I am doing? Am I falling too easily into the style of teaching that is no longer celebrated? Why are these not the questions that are discussed at university, why do we only talk about the theoretical material and not the stuff that we actually need to know about? Anyone have ideas, am I the only one struggling? Or is this all interns?